Project Rebound aims to assist recently released inmates in educational endeavors

A prison record is a blemish for anyone, but for participants in Project Rebound, the path to a better life starts at SF State.

Project Rebound, a branch of Associated Students, Inc. which seeks to assimilate recently released prison inmates into the SF State community, held a Feb. 7 open house highlighting the importance of giving a second chance to the recently released.

“When an individual has the desire, he’ll find a way to get here,” said Project Rebound office coordinator Airto Morales, a philosophy graduate student and former program participant. “What you see is a work in progress.”

Project Rebound was founded in 1967 by SF State student and then-recently released inmate John Irwin. Irwin, who later became a professor of sociology at SF State also helped establish the University’s College of Ethnic Studies.

Despite the project’s deep roots on campus, SF State holds the distinction of being the only four-year university in the U.S. to implement the “education, not incarceration” service. It wasn’t until recently that Rutgers University in New Jersey contacted SF State to create its own program similar to Project Rebound.

“There aren’t that many opportunities for the incarcerated,” said Project Rebound Outreach Coordinator Eric Durnell, 30, a psychology major and former program participant. “The cycle of incarceration can become habitual if he (the prisoner) has no discernible skills.”

According to U.S. Census data, California has a prisoner population of about 170,000, the largest in the country. However, the state paroles 100,000 inmates each year, many of who will have no assistance or set plan once released. Additionally, the program faces some disadvantages because California state law requires that parolees report to the county in which they were incarcerated. Thus, parolees from outside the Bay Area interested in higher education face obstacles.

Project Rebound receives an average of 35 applicants every semester with 20 to 40 percent meeting the prerequisites to attend the University. The Project Rebound application begins with a simple questionnaire and those who are accepted receive an admissions packet to SF State.

Those who are turned away are usually able to meet the requirements in later terms, according to Jason Bell, Project Rebound program director. Individuals who are not accepted are referred to City College of San Francisco’s Second Chance program which places students on a path similar to SF State’s.

“I ended up taking several badly-needed classes all thanks to Project Rebound,” said Carl Bedford, 53, a criminal justice major who transferred from Diablo Valley College. Bedford is one of approximately 80 ex-inmates currently enrolled at SF State. “Persistence is key. You have to believe that you have the power.”

The teachings of the program, however, are not strictly confined to campus. Project Rebound diligently works with children in San Francisco’s lower income neighborhoods to encourage education and to persuade children, many of who have or had a parent in prison, to abstain from crime. Likewise, family events are held frequently.

Jessica Ahmadia, 21, a geography major, likens the prison system to “modern-day slavery”.

“The program raises awareness that prisoners, if provided the opportunity, have the tools to succeed,” Ahmadia said.

To those who have experienced first-hand the limited options parolees face after exiting prison, Project Rebound is a meaningful start.

“If you can provide someone to an education, not only can they help themselves, they can contribute to society,” Morales said. “There’s no stopping a person with drive and desire.”